Surface Mobility Consultants has single handedly introduced AI, big data, and machine learning to Dubai's transport and mobility sectors.

Nabeel Alzaka

Nabeel Alzaka is the Co-founder & Executive Director of Surface Mobility Consultants. He is an internationally recognized expert in emerging technologies, such as smart city, smart mobility, connected and autonomous vehicles, alternative transportation, governance and frameworks, integrated networks, command and control centers, and non-motorized transportation. He has nearly two decades' worth of experience in the transportation sector, spanning North America, Europe, and the Middle East, where he has carried out a number of initiatives, including the planning, development, integration, and operations of new age transportation systems and disruptive transportation technologies.

What are your core competences?
We are a consultancy firm that has exploited a niche in the market concerning the introduction of AI and machine learning into the transportation and mobility sector. We assist government and private entities prepare for these disruptive technologies in areas such as mobility integration, infrastructure implementation, and legislation and regulation. Dubai is a leader in the disruptive technology sector. While previously the idea was to identify the best options abroad and import them, over the past five years the emphasis has been on developing alternatives locally. Autonomous vehicles are a good example, where His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wants 25% of all vehicle trips in Dubai to be autonomous by 2030, which is an impressive KPI. Duly, we have established our company perceiving a gap in the market as the majority of transportation consultancies provide similar services as part of a wider remit, and few are as niche and as focused on what we do as we are. We are engaged in all modes of transportation and smart mobility apart from aircraft; however, we do cover a range of services within ground transportation in and around airports. So, trams, taxis, micro-mobility such as e-scooters, and other modes are within our range.

At what stage is Dubai in terms of transportation?
If you look at the Middle East, Dubai is leading from the front. No other country has expanded as much and as well as Dubai. There have been major changes within a short time period in terms of metro, tram, and electric vehicles. The way Dubai has advanced in terms of infrastructure is phenomenal. The idea of building an oasis in the dessert has worked and Dubai is on track for sustainable long-term growth.

How are you advising on big data for smart cities?
We have a number of key projects such as the implementation of big data platforms. These platforms provide data from many sources such as cars, Google, population density, and GPS, and deposit it in a so-called 'data lake.' Then, we have a team of data scientists, data analysts, and transportation professionals who build models and implement and use cases to provide answers and a visual perspective of the data based on business requirements and client engagement. The beauty of big data is that you can take different data sets and implement it in different solutions for problems that you did not know existed. For example, we have tested different solutions that have helped us to reduce the idle time for taxis. Drivers can be notified about areas where there is more demand for taxis at a certain time, hence, improving the city's public transport usage. That's better than roaming around to get a ride which in turn increases delays and traffic. So big data can not only teach us a lot about transportation and people but also allow us to introduce more sustainable solutions for first- and last-mile travel patterns.

What are the benefits of autonomous vehicles?
Autonomous vehicles need to be smart at all times so that they can predict and react according to human behavior. They must know where they are and what surrounds them to be able to have e-learning capabilities. The benefits are many, including the potential to reduce congestion and use of land for roads and parking spaces, and adopt a shared mobility functionality. We can also witness a decrease in the number of cars. What's more, autonomous and electric vehicles can help us reduce our overall carbon footprint. It is still difficult to know exactly when this shift toward autonomous vehicles will happen, but Dubai and the UAE are already leading this transition.